Many alt-rock bands attempt, and fail, to create gripping atmospheric music. Sadly, most slip into soporific doldrums or overwrought sentimentality. Houston's Pale is not one of them. Its new release, High Up and Away, strikes just the right balance of rocking aggression and gentle emoting.
Songs like opener "Salvation of the Rabbits" (a possible breakthrough hit) reveal a late-'80s influence, when alt-rock was still a post-angst-ridden, pregrunge sound. Good money says there are at least a few Chameleons records on these kids' shelves. Singer Calvin Stanley, meanwhile, is another front man who employs the Jeff Buckley Falsetto (not that there's anything wrong with that). Yet when Stanley emotes, it's far from overblown -- it's simple, clean and precise. He delivers the goods, then moves on without wallowing in overearnest keening.
Look for truly transcendent moments in songs like "Psalm," which employs ethereal keyboards and nostalgic guitar lines that grab you and won't let go until the tune's five minutes and 46 seconds are up. Of course, when it's time to go, the guys'll stand at the door and implore you to please let them stay a little longer. And you'll give in, especially when Stanley massages your ears with his sensual "Ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo."
But High Up and Away isn't all about prettiness and sensuality. Pale has its gritty side, too, and it's on display in "The American," a blistering indictment of the music industry, or maybe society in general. "I'm ready for my closeup / Is this where I take my clothes off?" Stanley hollers. It raises a question, though: Dude, isn't it a little early in the game to be this jaded?
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All the elements for success are here: hooky songs, nicely fuzzy guitars, an excellent drummer (Joey Mathews) and strong lyricism. These boys are more than capable of drawing the same kind of audience as Coldplay and a pre-senility Radiohead while creating their own unique sound. Pale is focused and driven, and if these boys don't make it big, someone in this industry isn't paying attention.